Best of our wild blogs: 25 Mar 12

Water is a scarce and precious resource!
from Nature rambles

What can we see at Pasir Ris in the rain?
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

A Return To Pasir Ris Park & Mangrove Forest
from Nikita Hengbok

A Beautiful Lycaenid Outside NTU
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Butterfly of the Month - March 2012
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Bukit Brown and the soul of Singapore

All that sound and fury was not a waste of time; as a people, we all gained something
Ignatius Low Straits Times 25 Mar 12;

An experiment of sorts in Singapore in civil activism came to an end last week.

Despite a long and loud campaign by interest groups to change the Government's mind, a road will be built across the Bukit Brown cemetery to ease congestion for motorists.

On the same day this was announced, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) published the names of the 3,746 dead whose graves will be exhumed. Works for the project will start at the end of the year.

Seven groups that made a last-ditch attempt to stay the Government's hand formed an intriguing list.

Other than Singapore's Nature and Heritage societies, there was the Singapore Paranormal Investigators, a group that holds 'ghost tours' in various parts of the island.

The rest were the lesser-known All Things Bukit Brown, SOS Bukit Brown, Green Corridor and Green Drinks.

I found myself wondering what they were, and how each might be different from the other.

But I have also asked myself many times during this whole saga whether I was the sort of person who would bother to join one of these groups, attend meetings for hours on end and feel passionately enough to even lead the charge one day.

One answer to that question, of course, is that it depends on what the group is fighting for.

I am not a nature buff, and although I am quite sentimental about the places I grew up in, I felt no connection to Bukit Brown.

In fact, when the first stories were written about the controversy, I - like a lot of people - had to ask where this cemetery was.

I mean, of course I had always known about the burial plots in the Thomson area which would receive a steady stream of visitors during the Qing Ming festival, but I never knew the cemetery's name or knew that so many of the country's pioneers were laid to rest there.

I might have been more passionate about saving the Van Kleef Aquarium, one of my absolute favourite places to visit as a kid, which was demolished some time in 1998.

That is, however, quite beside the point.

The question is - assuming that there was one day a cause that I felt passionately about - would I step forward to try and lobby for a change?

My answer to that, post-Bukit Brown, is probably yes.

And this is why I disagree with people - both within Government and civil society - who might think that the protracted attempt to engage interest groups on the issue was ultimately a big waste of everyone's time.

It was not a waste of time for two reasons. The first has to do with the outcome and the other with the process.

In the disappointment that was expressed over the Government's decision to keep the road, a lot of people missed the fact that the noise and heat generated by interest groups did ultimately make a small difference to the outcome.

Instead of laying a road flat on the ground through the cemetery, the LTA decided to elevate a 600m stretch up to 10m off the ground.

This apparently costs up to three times as much to construct, but will allow animals and other wildlife access across the road, resulting in less disruption to their natural habitat. Some graves (although not many more) could also be saved.

Okay, it's true this outcome wasn't at all close to what the various interest groups hoped for.

But the takeaway for a more neutral observer like me was that the Government will budge - even if a little - if given a hard enough nudge by ordinary people.

The more important reason, however, as to the Bukit Brown saga wasn't a waste of time goes beyond any tangible outcome.

All my life growing up as a Singaporean, I have felt that, as a people, we excel in many areas but always lack the energy or ability to engage in civil activism.

Perhaps we were schooled by our politicians always to be realistic and pragmatic. For that reason, so many of us have only really been genuinely interested in our education, careers and the well-being of our families.

These days, the world is connected enough - and we are well-travelled enough - for us to feel real angst about this at least occasionally.

We are a smart, stable and efficient people, but do we have a soul? Bukit Brown showed me there is hope for us yet.

Through the months over which the debate unfolded, I was amazed by the number of people who came out to make a stand on the issue.

Many may have had little or no connection to the place, but they understood the dilemma between national development and conserving our heritage, and they came down firmly on the latter's side.

Some pored over policy papers and maps of the terrain to argue their case with the Government. Others volunteered time at the weekend to scrub the graves and document them for posterity.

There was also no shortage of creativity - 3-D mapmakers are using their craft to create virtual walk-throughs of Bukit Brown, high-tech RFID tags are ensuring that no grave in the wider cemetery goes unnoticed.

I don't know about you, but I was inspired by all of this. I discovered a new side to our people and it gave me a fresh sense of pride in belonging to this country.

I know now that if I were to step forward one day to argue for a cause that wasn't narrowly selfish, I wouldn't be taken for a crazy idealistic fool and there would actually be people standing side-by-side with me.

So, no, Bukit Brown wasn't at all a waste of time for anyone.

There were many things about the consultation that weren't perfect, of course.

The Government could have presented all the options upfront - including building a viaduct or acquiring adjacent private land - instead of deciding on the road and leaving little room for manoeuvre.

Activists could have more clearly demonstrated that they were actively weighing the national interest against their own narrower interests. They could also have given the Government more credit where it was due, particularly to the politicians and civil servants who went against the grain to engage them.

But we will do better next time. At least as a nation, now we know that we can.

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Parks with perks

Admiralty Park, Jurong Lake Park and East Coast Park are being turned into Destination Parks, but will they lose their tranquillity?
Kimberly Spykerman Straits Times 25 Mar 12;

Not just a park, but a park with perks. That is what the National Parks Board (NParks) is proposing for three public parks - Admiralty, East Coast and Jurong Lake - to transform them into 'destination parks'.

Think giant slides and adventure playgrounds, for example.

However, while parkgoers LifeStyle spoke to welcome more amenities and activities, the idea of putting man-made structures amid Mother Nature does not sit well with some at all. They worry that an influx of people going to use the new amenities may end up destroying the tranquillity that draws people to the green space in the first place.

One such nature-lover is fitness enthusiast Irene Tan, in her 30s. She was enjoying some brisk walking and running on Wednesday evening at Jurong Lake Park, with its lush green slopes, leafy trees, light breeze and panoramic water view.

People nearby were lounging on the park benches, just taking in the scene. In fact, it would be a perfect setting for al fresco dining, water playgrounds, a small petting zoo and as an outdoor concert venue, some parkgoers told LifeStyle.

But Ms Tan said this could spell the end of the park as an exercise venue. 'I enjoy the peacefulness of the place, it's very relaxing. But it won't be like this anymore if too many people come here just to dine. There are already many such places in Singapore so I hope this park can be kept for exercise.'

Over at East Coast Park, Mr Alvin Lee, 53, who runs Castle Beach which offers sandcastle-building activities for families, said it can be hard to enjoy the park when it is teeming with people and activity.

'Especially for older people who just want to slow down and relax, there's no space to do that here. There's so much happening here already,' he added.

Others said East Coast Park has become so popular that the priority should be to manage the crowd and traffic situation better, rather than add more facilities.

'There are more people on weekends so you need some patience to wait for carpark space. The footpaths are also quite crowded,' said Ms Gladys Chua, 50, who works at the People's Association and takes her five-year-old jack russell terrier for weekend walks there.

NParks has invited the public to give feedback on what they want to see in these three parks, which it says it chose based on geographical location and unique characteristics.

Experts told LifeStyle that while rejuvenating these parks would be welcomed by Singaporeans, it was important to keep new structures as organic as possible, to retain the natural aspect of the park.

Their tips: Understand each site's strong points and safeguard those factors when designing the parks.

For example, rock-climbing and abseiling walls could be created out of the naturally hilly terrain of Admiralty Park, said Ms Toh Yah Li, an environment design lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic.

Or how about an adventure trail that cuts through the hills and allows visitors to 'burrow' through, suggested landscape architect Mason Tan, who runs his own firm Mace Studio.

To ease the overcrowding at East Coast Park, more space can be created by building paths that lead to the beach or forested areas, rather than the linear path, said Mr Idris Bidin, senior lecturer for the Diploma in Landscape Architecture course at Singapore Polytechnic.

'These meandering paths give people more options for walking routes. It also adds to the sensory experience and helps control the crowd,' he added.

Dr Tan Puay Yok from the National University of Singapore's department of architecture said plans for East Coast Park could be channelled to other parks in the east, such as Bedok Reservoir Park, since East Coast Park is already a 'destination park' of sorts. 'I'm sure every Singapore kid has been there at least once to cycle or for a barbecue,' he said with a chuckle.

He added that while man-made structures can attract visitors, it is important to help people establish historical, cultural and emotional links with the landscape, which will keep them coming back. He suggested having interactive signs and mobile apps at the parks to give interesting historical nuggets to visitors.

'Going to a park is not just about having fun, it's good to understand the heritage of the site,' he said.

But for parkgoer Rahim Yatin, a 44-year-old engineer, amenities such as cafes and bicycle kiosks are the first step in ensuring that people want to make the trip to the park in the first place.

'If there are no basic facilities, people may not bother to come just for the scenery,' he said.

EAST COAST PARK (right and below right)

What it could have:

More child-friendly spaces such as playgrounds attached to eating areas where parents can watch their kids

Separate areas that act as 'sanctuaries' for older residents who want to be away from the noise and bustle of park activity

Wider walking spaces and greater accessibility by public transport, which would help ease the carpark crunch on weekends


What it could have:

Food and beverage outlets

A skate park because of the hilly terrain

Rockclimbing and abseiling walls

Adventure trail with tunnels for people to 'burrow' through the hills

Proper running tracks and cycling facilities


What it could have:

A mini petting-zoo with animals such as rabbits or ducks

A dog run

Al fresco dining outlets

A stage for outdoor performances

Water-themed playgrounds


NParks will go on a massive public engagement drive in the next six months to decide on what the three parks will become. This will include roadshows and focus-group sessions.

Members of the public can share their views at

They can also contribute their ideas at any of NParks roadshows listed here:

Nex: March 24 to 25, 11am to 7pm

HDB Hub: April 14 to 15, 11am to 7pm

Downtown East: April 21 to 22, 11am to 7pm

Jurong Point: April 28 to 29, 11am to 7pm

HortPark: May 1 to June 30, 11am to 7pm

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Singaporeans in danger of extinction?

Jessica Cheam Straits Times 25 Mar 12;

Singaporeans are in danger of disappearing by 2100 if they continue not having enough babies.

Dr Hans Rosling made that prediction as he said Singapore has yet to feel the brunt of declining fertility and a rapidly ageing society.

If the babies do not come, this place will just fill up with old people, he said, tossing up the numbers that tell the story.

With a total fertility rate (TFR) - or births per woman - of 1.2 last year, Singapore has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world.

Latest United Nations data puts Singapore's five-year average TFR at 1.37 for 2010 to 2015, compared with 2.57 in Malaysia, and 2.06 in Indonesia. Even Japan has a higher rate of 1.42 and South Korea, 1.39.

What it means is that by 2030, Singapore will have as many people above 75 years of age as young people below 15, and an ever shrinking number of young people will have to look after a growing number of elderly folk.

That is when Singapore will really need immigrants, to fill up the gaps in the population and to keep the economy humming.

Dr Rosling, a sought-after international speaker and Swedish global health professor and public statistics advocate, was in Singapore earlier this month to give a talk.

He was not short of ideas to encourage Singapore women to have babies.

On a previous visit two years ago, he said gender equality was key to fixing the great baby shortage, couples deserved more than four months' paid maternity leave, and Singapore men had to get more involved in child-rearing.

Relying less on foreign maids would do wonders for getting husbands more involved in raising their families, he felt.

Adding to that list on his recent visit, he said the baby situation would improve if more was done to erase the stigma of divorce or being a single mother.

'Allow women to divorce, give them favourable conditions... and you will get more marriages and children,' he said, though he acknowledged that this might be controversial in a society with Asian values.

Recounting a recent conversation in Hong Kong with an unmarried, childless Asian woman in her 30s, he said: 'I asked her, do you not like children? She replied, 'Oh yes, I do. It's the idea of a husband that I don't like.''

As the laughter from his audience died down, Dr Rosling pointed out that Singapore is not the only country with a falling birth rate.

Across the globe, as countries mature, people are having fewer children. Many couples stop at two.

The result is that the number of children in the world has stopped growing.

'The world has hit 'peak child',' he said, noting that the number of children in the world has hit 1.9 billion today and will likely maintain or dip slightly below this level from now up to 2100.

'People think the global fertility rate is somewhere around 3.5 births per woman, but in reality, that number is 2.4 today.'

Dr Rosling also emphasised that - contrary to what some environmentalists say about population growth aggravating climate change - it is not a growing number of people that is the major concern.

Rather, growing resource constraints will come from the existing billions in developing countries rising to the wealth and consumption levels of the richest countries.

Arising from this is the threat of war as countries jostle for land and resources, and also increased poverty due to the rising prices of fuel, fertilisers and food.

He accused some environmentalists of pushing 'a toxic combination of arrogant and ignorant views of the world' by saying the world would cease functioning if Asia began using as much oil as Europe and the United States.

'Frankly, I can live without the polar bear,' he said. 'But I cannot bear the thought of one billion people dying from terrible famines and wars.'

He said the solution lay not in controlling population growth, but in changing the way people live.

The world has the ability to harness technology and produce more food with fewer resources to feed a growing population - but there must also be a change in lifestyles.

This includes getting people to eat less meat, consume fewer goods and buy products that have a minimal impact on the environment.

Clearly someone who loves children, Dr Rosling said: 'People use the term 'population explosion', which I find severely derogative - you are calling a loved child a bomb!'

Life is more meaningful with children, he added. People and governments must weigh the trade-offs when people choose to have fewer babies.

'What is it that makes a society choose a brand-new luxury car over one more child?' he asked.


Dr Hans Rosling teaches global health at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, which selects winners for the Nobel Prize in medicine, but is arguably more well-known for his humorous but 'deadly serious' lectures on statistics which he conducts worldwide and which are viewed by millions on the Web.

He co-founded the non-profit group Gapminder Foundation in 2005 with his son and daughter-in-law, which features a Trendalyser software that animates global development statistics, usually from the United Nations, to help people form a sharper view of the world. The software has since been acquired by tech giant Google.

He is married with three children and each has three children.

He was in Singapore earlier this month to give a lecture organised by the Royal Geographical Society.

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Singapore commemorates World Water Day

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore launched its largest World Water Day commemoration at the Marina Barrage Saturday morning.

The launch was officiated by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

President Tan arrived by boat, to a drum fanfare by pupils of Fuhua Primary School.

In his speech before the launch, President Tan said water security cannot be taken for granted.

He said: "Demand for water is expected to double over the next 50 years, and unfortunately, changing climate patterns have added to the uncertainty of our limited water supply.

"We will need the collective efforts of every individual, young and old, not just to conserve water in our daily activities, but to also keep our water resources clean for long-term sustainability."

Also taking part in the launch ceremony were about 500 cyclists, kayakers and dragon boaters. They converged at Marina Barrage, after having meandered through key 'Active, Beautiful, Clean (ABC) Waters' sites islandwide.

More than 25,000 people are expected to turn up at 15 locations islandwide to mark World Water Day, with some 10,000 people expected at Marina Barrage alone.

Over at Jurong Lake, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam joined more than 1,000 people to set the record for Singapore's biggest-ever Mass Water Filtration Exercise.

At the Lorong Halus Wetland, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and park-goers also helped raise awareness on the importance of conserving water by going on a walk that symbolised the distance many in other parts of the world journey for clean water.

Mr Teo also spoke of the need to reduce water consumption.

"Each person in Singapore uses 154 litres of water per day - that's quite a lot. What we're trying to do is in ten years time, to reduce that amount to 147 litres per day," he said.

This year's theme is 'Singapore Celebrates World Water Day: Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters for All'.

World Water Day in Singapore is organised by national water agency, PUB, along with its 125 community partners.

It is Singapore's fourth commemoration of World Water Day.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development designated March 22 as World Water Day to raise awareness on the importance of preserving global water resources.

- CNA/cc/ac

10,000 pails, 1 message: Save water
World Water Day marked with activities across the island and conservation message
Kezia Toh Straits Times 25 Mar 12;

More than 10,000 people toting small blue pails dotted the island yesterday to mark World Water Day. They walked, cycled or paddled with the buckets, symbolic of how people in developing countries trudge long distances to fetch water, and as a reminder to cherish the Republic's water resources.

At the main event at Marina Barrage, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Singapore should not take its water security for granted.

He noted the changes in climate patterns and the ever increasing demand for water.

The Republic has diversified its water sources to end reliance on imported water. Singapore is on track to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2061, when the second water agreement with Malaysia expires.

But such self-reliance still rests on collective efforts to ensure water security.

'We will need the collective efforts of every individual, young and old, not just to conserve water in our daily activities but to also keep our water resources clean for long-term sustainability,' Dr Tan said.

A string of 15 celebrations marked the day, where a record of over 25,000 people attended.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was at Jurong Lake where about 1,000 people took part in a mass water filtration exercise. Participants used material such as sand and cotton wool to filter untreated water.

Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim led a 200-strong team on a 5km kayaking trip from Kolam Ayer to Marina Barrage.

The events also held a certain nostalgia for Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who took a 1km walk at the Lorong Halus Wetland. While there, he said that he first visited the area - then an active dumpsite - 15 years ago as Environment Minister.

Today, there is a bentonite clay wall to filter and clean the water.

'To see it today was quite incredible,' he added.

Additional reporting by Siau Ming En and Carolyn Khew

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Malaysia, Indonesia Refute EPA Report On Palm Oil-based Biofuels

Salmy Hashim Bernama 23 Mar 12;

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Bernama) -- Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's largest producers of palm oil, are on a joint mission to correct and update a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that could impact future exports of palm oil-based biofuels.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, who is leading the effort, described the current EPA report as "erroneous" and felt the need to "come personally to the US" for discussions with senior US officials, saying the EPA data did not reflect the current standards practised in the producing countries.

The EPA published in December last year its findings that two types of palm- based biofuels - biodiesel and renewable diesel - have failed to meet the minimum 20 per cent greenhouse gas emissions savings threshold requirement needed to qualify as renewable fuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard 2 (RFS 2).

"What happens here is heard by the rest of the world - and will reverberate around the world - painting a bad picture of palm oil," Dompok told Bernama and RTM here on Friday.

The EPA has invited all parties, including Malaysia and Indonesia, to submit comments on the report, and has extended its deadline to April 27.

Dompok, who met senior officials at the EPA, was hopeful that the problem would be resolved backed by the latest data on sustainable production of palm oil in the two countries.

Indonesia was represented by the Director General of Processing and Marketing under the Ministry of Agriculture, Zaenal Bachruddin.

Dompok also met senior officials at the Department of Agriculture and Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis to discuss the joint issue, including efforts to protect the environment as the two countries develop its palm oil industries and provide a source of income for smallholders as well as alleviate poverty in rural areas.

US-Malaysia bilateral trade in 2011 was at US$36.9 billion (RM113.496 billion), while US-Indonesia trade was US$27 billion (RM83.045 billion).

Malaysia is the world's largest exporter of palm oil, and its number one consumer is China, followed by the European Union, Pakistan, India, and the United States.

Last year, Malaysia exported 18 million tonnes of palm oil and products globally worth RM80.3 billion, with about 1 million tonnes going to the US at RM5.93 billion, an increase from RM4.2 billion the previous year.

"I see an increasing trend - the US is an important market for us," said Dompok.

On biofuel from palm oil, Dompok projects that the B5 (5 per cent bio diesel and 95 per cent petroleum diesel) which will use 500,000 tonnes of Malaysian palm oil, will be available for Malaysians by the end of the year.

Going forward, he foresees the development of B10, which would double the consumption of Malaysian palm oil and help the local biodiesel industry.


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